I bought my inspiration quilt in 2005. I was not particularly interested in appliqué quilts, or in red and green quilts. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew I would buy it. When an appraiser told me that it is probably a unique pattern, I wanted to know more. Thus began a search of the Internet, books, and other sources of information about these red and green, four-block quilts. I had no background information about my quilt’s source or maker, other than it was “found in a bed and breakfast in Ohio.” I discovered that many of these quilts were made in southern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and what is now northern West Virginia. My reading told me that the design inspiration for my quilt was assuredly German, and that it was most likely made by a young woman, probably before her marriage.
I learned about the American Quilt Study Guild’s quilt study from one of Barbara Brackman’s blogs. It seemed a perfect way to share my quilt with people who would appreciate it. What I didn’t realize was how much I would learn by making this copy. Not just about the mechanics of making this kind of quilt, but about how we today differ from the way our quilting ancestors thought about design, about perfection, and about DOING.
Today, we are used to having the tools to do a thing “perfectly” (computers, copying machines, cameras). Letting go of perfection and just having “a go” at something can be downright paralyzing. But just because we can buy patterns, Mylar washers and spray starch, glue with a needle-nose applicator, stem-making rods, and wash-away adhesives, doesn’t mean we have to always use these methods. I did make templates from the original quilt, but that was more because I wanted my copy to be as similar as possible to it. And I most certainly used my expensive, sharp scissors, my Ott lights, colored threads so my stitches would be invisible, and modern batting and fabrics.
Once the “perfection” hurdle was cleared, though, I found that going back to basics presented challenges and a unique learning experience. I found that even though these quilts’ designs might look “primitive” to our eyes, there was nothing simple about creating them. These women knew what they were doing, both with a needle and with design.